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Former East Timor Official Faces Charge of Arming Civilians

  • Phil Mercer

The United Nations says East Timor's chief prosecutor has ordered the arrest of a former government minister, accusing him of arming civilians to act against political opponents of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. International peacekeepers are on full alert in the troubled country as hundreds of protesters gather in the capital Dili to demand Mr. Alkatiri's resignation.

U.N. officials in East Timor say the country's prosecutor-general has issued an arrest warrant for former interior minister Rogerio Lobato, a close ally of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

The officials said Tuesday that Lobato has been charged with providing weapons to civilians last month as the country descended into chaos.

The charges come against the background of assertions by Vincente de Concecao, a rebel leader, who claims the prime minister armed de Concecao's men in order for them to silence Mr. Alkatiri's critics.

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos- Horta, who met with de Concecao in recent days, says the continued pressure on the prime minister could cause more instability in the troubled Southeast Asian nation. Ramos Horta spoke Tuesday to Australia's ABC broadcast network.

"The problem is, obviously, can the country afford the next six months, nine months of this continued pressure on the prime minister to resign? Can we afford this increasing loss of credibility of the government and poor image of the country?" he asked.

Many East Timorese are blaming the recent bloodshed in Dili on Mr. Alkatiri's decision to fire 600 soldiers in March. That sparked bloody clashes between the dismissed soldiers and loyalist forces, which was followed by gang violence as public order evaporated.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dili Tuesday calling for the prime minister to quit. Some called the embattled leader a "murderer" and a "terrorist."

Organizers have said 30,000 people could turn out for anti-government demonstrations in the next few days.

As a result, Australian troops - part of a 2,700-strong international peacekeeping contingent - have increased security in the capital.

At least 30 people have been killed in the violence in East Timor since late April, while tens of thousands of others have fled their homes.

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